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Sales – an art or science?

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My son upped and left the pressures of life in England and the position of our head of sales for the hedonistic and responsibility-free lifestyle of a diving instructor on the Great Barrier Reef.  

I am, therefore, highly amused to find that many of his recent communications boast about how he’s shattered his targets selling dive equipment. It’s true that you can take the salesman out of sales, but you’ll never take the sales out of the true salesman.  

It got me thinking: sales – art or science? 

Old-school salesmen were mostly taught by the book. They learned their patters; the importance of closing; talked conversions and success rates; and generally lived and breathed the commission they had to live on. 

Sales thinking – and training – has now evolved. While we might talk about closing, we are taught to converse, to listen, and to have meaningful communication that establishes exactly how we are going to help our customers. Much more PC. 

Then we have the truly gifted, natural salesman. These guys are the theatrical performers of the profession – the ones that definitely sell the sizzle off the steak. They’re not usually team players. In fact, they’re more likely to kill their brethren than let go of a sale. They’re not too bothered by figure work and forecasting, nor the finer details of legalities – in their book, such things keep accountants and lawyers in work. They’re certainly not bothered about their responsibilities to stakeholders;  their focus is on sales figures and their own benefits, combined with a deadly competitive streak.  

They also don’t care about time-keeping much. They rely on the charm of their personalities, far more than good service, for customer retention. That said, when it comes to pitching; negotiating; selling, there is no-one to touch the maverick salesman. 

Many entrepreneurs have started out doing their own selling. Many are mavericks, in any case. That charm, confidence and determination make them appear natural salesmen. They are passionate about their business, their product or service – or often, just passionate about their financial survival. Passion is an essential ingredient to sales. 

But as entrepreneurs build their business, it becomes impossible to do all their own selling. They must build a serious and solid sales team, one that has its feet firmly grounded in facts and figures and training (both in selling and the broad approach of marketing and salesmanship). These team members may not be huge, glitzy stars but they deliver solid reliable, performances.  

This is the stuff you can build a company on. You can rely on the facts and figures and constant steadiness of a dedicated, hard-working, scientific team. And if occasionally, you come across a little glimmer of the natural salesman, however attractive it may seem, recognise that it is a performance. An art. And not one you will be able to harness for very long.

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